Thursday, February 28, 2013

Comet Collecting

My astronomy club assists the astronomy club of a local middle school, and for their meeting today, I collected my comet photos, taken over the past ten years. This topic is in anticipation for a moderately bright comet expected to grace our sky in little over a week.

Comet PANSTARS has been visible in the southern hemisphere and has brightened so that by the time it slips into the northern hemisphere sky on March 9, it should be discernable in binoculars. Look low to the west just after sunset. Then when the cresent moon appears on the 11th and 12th, look near the moon to find the comet.

My photo of McNaught from January 2008 is a brighter version of what to expect for this sunset comet:

The first comet I photographed was Ikeya-Chang in 2002. It make a brief appearance in the west, and for reasons I can't recall, I had only one night to capture it. I set my schmidt-cassigrain scope on my balcony and aimed almost horizontally over a neighbor's house. That evening, my neighbor left all ten of his unshielded lights on, so I was never able to get a good focus through the glare. Because I was using slide film, I couldn't check my focus till three weeks later when the slides were returned. Fortunately comets start out fuzzy, so no one noticed my focus, unless I made a light pollution story out of it.
Ikeya-Chang, 2002

In 2004, I photographed Comet NEAT next to the Haydes cluster in Taurus. To my embarrassment, I don't remember taking this picture, but fortunately, I document my slides.

Comet NEAT 2004

Comet Macholz offered me the opportunity to show in a pair of slides how fast a comet moves from night to night using a common reference. Below are photos of Macholtz next to the Pleaides. The second picture blends to the two photographs, and you can see some of the tail.

Macholtz next to the Pleaides in 2006. I don't recall the
order of these.

Comet Macholtz also offers a light pollution story. Every night of the week it was visible and during the above photos, some business was painted the sky with search lights. The whole week! Every night that I went into my backyard, minding my own business, trying photograph the sky above my yard, someone from a mile away was washing light over my home at about 20 second intervals.

Comet Holmes was a gift, both in its uniqueness and for staying put. It's trajectory, along with Earth's, kept it in a constant position relative to the stars. This allowed me to take longer exposures with my Schmidt-Cassigrain using it's clock drive, instead of having to track the comet, which I couldn't do at the time.

Comet Holmes

Comet Holmes is notable for it's expansion. As it traveled away from Earth, it puffed up, increasin in size while growing dimmer.

Comet Christensen was photographed with my 3-inch scope and digital camera. I'm glad I captured it, because all the other night-time comets I photographed with my digital camera were green.

Comet Christensen, Sept 2009

So, I'm grateful that I have at least one whitish, night-time comet on my digital camera, otherwise I would suspect the color in these to be an artifact of my camera:

Comet Garradd, Sept 2011

Comet LINEAR, c2006vz13 (discovery date in lieu of knowing when I photographed it)

Comet Tuttle, Jan 2008

One of these green comets,  Lulin crossed much of the night sky allowing me to create some mosaic images:

The above is ten comets over ten years. If you follow the astronomy magazines, and have a modest sized telescope, there's always a comet to see.

I'm eager for the 9-14th of March, when I'll be looking to the west for new comet.


No comments: